Yellowstone Genealogy Forum
Frederick Billings Biography
[Extracted from Billings Gazette Files September 1960, BLM & YGF Deed Abstracts]
Revised 10 May 2003
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Fredrick Billings was one of 11 children reared in Woodstock, Vt., after his family moved from Royalton, VT. He was born September 27, 1823. He attended the University of Vermont, studying law, and was admitted to the bar in Woodstock, Vt. in 1848. In 1849 he visited California and early in the gold-rush days formed a law partnership with Archibald C. Peachy, specializing in advice to businessmen. He was counselor to General Riley, and was in England with General Fremont helping to dispose of his valuable Mariposa Estate, when the Civil War started. He returned to America and made his third trip to California in 1865, going overland by train. He was impressed with its vast resources and lack of communication. He became ill, and had to return home to Woodstock, the recovery lasting about a year. Politically he was a prominent Unionist, and helped swing California to the party. He refused a nomination to Congress, and was considered for a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet.
He became associated with the Northern Pacific in 1869 by purchasing 1/12th interest from Hiram Walbridge. He was director of the lines from 1870 onward. In 1873 this line collapsed, and he became its president in 1879. In 1881 he resigned and Henry Villard became president of the line and had controlling interest. His main duties were to organize and manage the land department, a function he held until 1875. In 1871 he, and the then president Smith and other directors located the Red River Crossing, followed by the Puget Sound Terminus. In 1873 he sought financial backing from San Francisco for the Pacific Coast construction. At this time the Jay, Cooke & Co were their bonding agent, and the Northern Pacific bonds were un-salable. He arranged for pledging three dollars of securities for every dollar of real money. Newspapers heralded this act as “a scheme to build a railroad from nowhere, through no man’s land, to no place.”
Billings was up to the task, and started bankruptcy proceedings in New York with Northern Pacific president George W. Cass acting as receiver. The property and holdings were foreclosed, and re-purchased in the interests of the bondholders to form the Northern Pacific Railway Co. within one year 80% of the bonds were converted to preferred stock, debt was eliminated, the group possessed 550 miles of roadway, and had earned a land grant of 10 million acres, with 30 million more to be earned by completion of the line. Due to the stock panic of 1873, preferred stock had only brought 25 to 30 cents on the dollar.
To construct the line in the Missouri-Yellowstone sections, Billings appealed to Congress in 1878 for funds, and was turned down. He raised $2,500,000 in private capital for bonds secured by a mortgage on the land sections. This included a 25,000 acres land grant for mile of track laid. He continued this form of financing until the line was completed.
In 1883, September 8th, the East and west portions of line were completed, meeting together at Gold Creek, MT. General Ulysses S. Grant helped drive the gold spike to complete the link.
Billings previously had formed a company to build an Atlantic-Pacific canal across Central America through Lake Nicaragua. This canal wasn’t built, and the United States built the Panama Canal instead. He was a founding partner in the Minnesota and Montana Land Improvement Co (many of the files are retained by the Forum).
In 1883 he married Julia Parmly of New York City. The Billings Parmly Library is named after Parmly Billings, his eldest child. He and Julia had seven children.(Link may be down).The Congregational Church, first one in Billings, was aided in its construction by a $10,000 donation by his wife.
On March 2, 1882 George B. Hulme transferred to Fredrick Billings all of Lot #1, Section 4, Township 1 South, Range 26 East (Bozeman Land Office) along with all of the original covenants. George Hulme had received the property from Anton Manderfeld, who acquired the land on November 10, 1901 (Custer county Homestead filing.) This made him a landowner in Billings, West Side Addition.
At the time of his death he had a significant amount of real estate holdings in the Billings area. Samuel E. Kilner was the surviving Executer and Trustee, with Dumont Clark administrator of his will. Frederick died September 30, 1890 in VT. He owned the following property:
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It was reported in John J. Walk’s biography that he sold his CASH entry homestead to Frederick Billings after he resided there for two years. Property was located on Section 28, N1/2 SW, Range 26E, Township 1N<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>.
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<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> John’s biography lists the property as being on NPR land, Section 29, T1S, R25E. The BLM identifies it otherwise. It contained 80 acres. The date of sale may be in error, and needs to be researched.